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Sunday, March 10th, 2013 01:19 am
Title: What Never Should Be: Ghost Machine
Chapter One: A Call In The Night
Author: blucougar57
Summary: Disharmony and conflict threatens the Torchwood Three family when ghosts surface from the past. (Sixth story in the "What Never Should Be" universe.)
Rating: T
Warnings: None, as yet.
A/N: Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding. Things aren’t quite right yet at home, where health and other issues are concerned, but we’re muddling along. I hope this offering will be sufficient for the moment, but I will get the next chapter posted as soon as I can type it up.

Chapter One: A Call In The Night

It was just gone midnight, and Ianto found himself tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. He was alone, thanks to Jack having to attend a Heads of Department meeting at Buckingham Palace.

The name was something of a misnomer. 'Departments' really only referred to UNIT and Torchwood and the quarterly meeting was a result of the Queen's diplomatic efforts to encourage at least some degree of civility between the two agencies. Needless to say, Jack wanted the least to do with UNIT as possible. The only reasons he made the effort to attend were the Queen, whom he adored, and Colonel Anderson from UNIT America, for whom he held the utmost respect. Even then, he might not have gone except for the fact that the meeting was being held within the neutral safe zone of Buckingham Palace. It was the only way the Queen had been able to reassure him that he would not fall victim to any of the UNIT commanders, who he maintained still hated and resented him.

Ianto sighed. He wanted to weep at Jack's ongoing mistrust and fear, but he also knew that only time would diminish those concerns. Jack, sadly, had far too many awful memories for those fears and insecurities to be dispelled any time soon.

The conference – for it was really a conference – was scheduled to run for two and a half days. Jack had left for it still grumbling about what UNIT and Torchwood could possibly have to talk about for that long. One day had passed, leaving Ianto left with two full days before Jack came home.

Fortunately, it had come at a time when the rift was relatively quiet. They had a few requisite weevil alerts, a couple of harmless retrievals, and that was about the sum of it. The peace afforded Ianto time to think – not just about Jack but also about the team as well, and their newest recruit in particular.

On the whole, Gwen was doing well and both he and Jack were pleased with her progress. After the disaster that had been her first day, Gwen had settled into a routine of coming into the Hub and spending her mornings studying the Torchwood Charter and procedure manuals before joining one of her colleagues for an afternoon of specialised training. She had not gone into the field again for a full two weeks after the Carys incident, and after that only for simple retrievals that were carefully supervised.

To Ianto's relief and Jack's approval, she'd not complained once about the restrictions, and her willingness to learn from scratch made it easy to teach her the ins and outs of Torchwood. Even more pleasing to Ianto had been learning that she'd gone to Jack and talked with him about what she could and couldn't tell her boyfriend, Rhys. Ianto knew that Jack understood the need to be able to talk in order to relieve tension, and he was happy for Gwen to talk to Rhys, provided she was careful not to let slip any specific details. It was a compromise Gwen had willingly and gratefully taken.

Ianto would not have said so out loud, but he felt quite proud of their new recruit and he knew that, despite initial reservations, Jack felt the same way. She was fitting in well, and though there were still moments when she displayed an annoying tendency to be judgemental of her colleagues, those moments were already becoming fewer and less frequent.

Another instance that had Ianto feeling like a proud parent was what had happened after Jack had given her his customised weapons training. Ianto vividly recalled the day that Jack had trained him to shoot. The up-close-and-personal methods had given him a raging hard-on and had resulted in some pretty heated sex, so he wasn't entirely surprised that Gwen had emerged from her training session looking slightly flustered and somewhat starry-eyed.

He would have been lying to say he hadn't been concerned. More than once, Gwen had shown signs of the beginnings of a crush on Jack, and Ianto couldn't help but worry that she would misconstrue his behaviour.

The tension had lingered for just a couple of days before Gwen had approached him with an unexpectedly pragmatic question.

"It really doesn't mean anything, does it?" she had asked as Ianto restocked the ammunition. "The flirting, I mean."

Ianto had paused in his task to stare at her quizzically.

"I'm sorry?"

Gwen looked embarrassed, but ploughed on regardless.

"I've been in knots for two days, trying to figure it out. I haven't sorted it all out yet, but I think I've worked out what the deal with Jack and the flirting. It's like a defence mechanism for him, isn't it? I've noticed that the more uncomfortable he is, the more he flirts. But there's nothing to it, is there?"

A relieved smile broke out across Ianto's face. Those were the exact sort of observational skills that he wanted her to hone.

"No, not in terms of him trying to make a score, as Owen might put it."

She snorted in amusement, but otherwise didn't interrupt. Ianto went on, still smiling wryly.

"You're right in that he uses it as a form of defence to protect himself when he's uncomfortable, but he does have a natural tendency to flirt. It's practically a part of his DNA."

Gwen peered at him thoughtfully before speaking again.

"Do you mind me asking, how long have you two been together?"

Ianto blinked owlishly, caught off-guard by the unexpected question. Gwen smiled and squeezed his arm in reassurance.

"Don't worry, I know it's really not my business and I promise I'll mind my own business after this. It's only that I just started paying a bit closer attention after my… you know, my weapons training with Jack, and it is a bit of a giveaway that he hardly ever lets you out of his sight. Besides, I can see it in the way you look at each other. It's pretty obvious that there's something special between you."

Ianto had felt a surge of warmth through him, and found himself hoping that Jack would concede to telling her the truth about his past with Torchwood. He honestly believed that she was mature enough to accept it, and him, without negative judgement.

"It's a little complicated," he'd conceded, "but I would estimate that we've been together as a couple for approximately a year now. I'd known him for around eight months before that. It was something of a slow burn."

"Well, I think it's great," she'd said warmly. "Now we just have to work on Tosh and Owen."

Ianto had nearly choked when she'd said that, but in hindsight he had to concede that she wasn't wrong. There was a definite spark between Tosh and Owen but it was yet to ignite. Tosh was still too introverted to make a move, and Owen was still grieving for Katie.

There was every likelihood that it would happen eventually, but not just yet.

Giving up on his futile efforts to sleep, Ianto got up.

He never slept well when Jack wasn't there, and he knew the sentiment was mutual. Deciding there was little point to moping around the house, Ianto got dressed and headed to the Hub.

* * *

Myfanwy greeted him with a half-hearted squawk from her eyrie when he arrived but other than that and the predictable hum of the Hub's tech, all was quiet. He took the liberty of making himself a nice, strong coffee before settling at his desk to catch up on the paperwork.

If there was one good thing about Jack's absence, it was the opportunity to deal with any excess paperwork that Jack had a tendency to ignore.

He'd been at it for nearly an hour when his mobile phone rang. Ianto rolled his eyes on instinct and in pure exasperation, fully expecting it to be Jack wanting phone sex. After all, the exact same thing had happened the last time Jack had been away from him for more than twelve hours. His surprise was palpable to discover that it was not Jack, but rather Gwen.

"Gwen?" he asked, trying not to feel irritated. He had already been up, after all. "You do realise it's three in the morning?"

"Oh, yes, and believe me, I'm no more thrilled about it than you are," she retorted. "I got a call from Andy, my old partner. He arrested a drunk a short while ago at a pub near the station."

"And that concerns us how?"

"He says the bloke was rambling about Torchwood."

Ianto swallowed an urge to sigh. Torchwood wasn't exactly the all-secret entity that Jack liked to pretend it was, and most Cardiff residents had heard the name Torchwood at some time or other. If nothing else, driving around in a hulking great SUV with 'Torchwood' emblazoned all over it was something of a tell.

"Is that all there was?" he asked as he pulled on his jacket.

"Apparently, he... the bloke, not Andy... Apparently he got into a fight with some kid who was trying to sell something for a quick buck. Andy says it looks like, quote, something from one of our spooky does, unquote."

Ianto rolled his eyes again. Even though Gwen couldn't see the gesture over the phone, it still made him feel better.

"I assume the people in question are being held at Cardiff Police Headquarters?"

"The bloke is. The kid slipped away, according to Andy. He's got the tech, though. He says the bloke managed to snag it before the kid bolted."

Well, that was something, at least, Ianto mused.

"There was one other thing," Gwen added, sounding slightly puzzled now. "Apparently the Torchwood he was ranting about wasn't our Torchwood. It was the one in London."

Ianto's breath caught slightly in his throat.

"Can you meet me there?" he asked her.

"I'll be there in ten."

Ianto grimaced as he ended the call.

"I'll be there in five."

* * *

A thousand scenarios raced through Ianto's mind in the time it took him to reach Cardiff Police Headquarters. The most likely possibility was that it was someone who had lost a loved one at Canary Wharf, or maybe even a survivor. He hoped it was neither, but it wouldn't be the first time if it was.

Twice, Ianto had had to confront a survivor who had found their way to Cardiff base after hearing rumours that it was once again operational. The first time, he'd been spat on and called a traitor; the second time, he'd ended up cradling the young woman in his arms in the middle of the Plass while Jack ushered away both the curious and the concerned alike.

At three in the morning, Ianto fervently hoped it was just a bog-standard drunk that they could disregard, and be done with it.

Gwen met him on the steps of the Police Headquarters, apology in her eyes.

"Sorry about the early call-out."

He answered with a quick shake of his head.

"You did the right thing, and so did Andy. We need to check it out and make sure there's nothing more to it."

When Gwen hesitated, Ianto felt his stomach drop unpleasantly. The look on her face told him that there was more, and that he was not going to like it.

"All right, Gwen. Come clean."

She flushed noticeably, even in the artificial street light.

"I didn't call you from home," Gwen admitted, admirably holding Ianto's gaze. "I was already here. When Andy called me, I just came straight here. I figured I could check it out, and then let you know if there was anything more to it."

"All right," Ianto conceded. "I would have preferred you called me sooner, but I can understand the logic. Is that all?"

Gwen did drop her gaze, then, and Ianto felt his stomach twist unpleasantly all over again.

"I handled the artifact, and I didn't have gloves on."

"Gwen!" Ianto burst out. "You know better than that!"

"I know," she conceded. "It was stupid, I know. But in my defence, I didn't know if it was alien tech, and Andy was already playing around with the damned thing like it was a kid's toy."

"You aren't helping your case," Ianto warned her. "Where is the tech now?"

She held up a containment bag that was just waiting to be sealed and appropriately labelled.

"It'll have to go back to the Hub for labeling, and I didn't know if you might want a closer look before I sealed it. Look, I know I deserve a kick in the behind for slipping on retrieval protocol, but I didn't forget everything you taught me. It was one slip and yes, I know how disastrous that could have been. If it makes you feel any better, I'll probably have nightmares tonight… or tomorrow night… or whenever."

Ianto paused to take a calming breath before gently squeezing her shoulder.

"No, Gwen. What makes me feel better is knowing that nothing bad happened, and that you'll learn from this and do things more carefully the next time."

A relieved smile turned up the corners of her mouth and she nodded in compliance.

"I will, I promise."

"All right, then. Let's go and see what our mysterious, drunken procurer of alien artefacts has to say."

* * *

They were met inside by Andy Davidson, who was nursing a split lip and the beginnings of a magnificent black eye. Ianto winced at the sight.

"Now I understand why you detained him. Are you all right, PC Davidson?"

Andy nodded as he led them through to the holding cells.

"Nothing a lot of ice and a healthy dose of Scotch won't fix. Your fellow's awake, though heaven only knows how. The man ought to be comatose, with the amount of alcohol that he's got in his body. Anyway, we were just going to let him sit in there until he sobers up, but between that odd little gizmo he had on him and the fact that he keeps ranting about Torchwood, I figured it'd be best to call in you lot."

"Thank you," Ianto said, though it could have been debatable just how thankful he really was. "If you'll show us to him?"

Andy led them through to the holding cells, where the drunks were routinely held until they were considered sober enough to front a magistrate. As they came to a halt in front of one particular cell, Gwen uttered a noise of disgust at the stench of alcohol and vomit that assaulted them.

"Bloody hell, Andy, no wonder you're eager to get rid of this one. That is ripe!"

Ianto said nothing to start with. He stood in silence, observing the man hunched over in the far corner. He could just make out the occasional obscenity attached to the words 'Torchwood' and 'UNIT', and he sensed a very real danger of physical violence that radiated off the incarcerated man.

"Unlock the door," he said finally. "Let me in there."

Not unexpectedly, loud protests came from both Andy and Gwen.

"Don't be bloody stupid, mate!" Andy burst out. "Let him sit in there and sober up. You don't want one of these, do you?"

He indicated his black eye for emphasis, and Ianto smiled grimly.

"I appreciate your concern, PC Davidson, but I think I can assure you that he is actually far less intoxicated than he seems to be. At the very least, he's sober enough to function at a reasonable level of coherency."

"How do you know that?" Andy asked with a frown, even as he reluctantly unlocked the cell door.

"Because," Ianto replied off-handedly, "I've never known an Irishman who couldn't hold his liquor."

Leaving behind two very confused individuals, Ianto entered the cell and crouched down in front of its occupant.

"Hello, Gage," he said quietly.

* * *

to be continued...


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